Are we really kicking off National Bone Health and Osteoporosis Prevention Month with a clickbait title? Yes, we are!
Except, it’s not actually clickbait, though calcium has been a hot topic for a while now.
The mineral is popping off for good reason, as more than 40% of Americans are not meeting the requirements for calcium intake. But we’ll make no bones about it — the conversation surrounding calcium is sensationalized and lacks nuance.
At Woodstock Vitamins, we’re not ones to cower at the prospect of going against the grain, so we asked Dr. Neal to share his thoughts on the thorny matter.
Well-known wisecracker and holistic pharmacist, Dr. Neal Smoller, is our founder and resident supplement sage.
If you’re looking to win an argument about bone-building with natural health options vs. pharmaceuticals, find a different clickbait article! If you’re looking for the scientific low-down on what calcium actually does for bones and supplementation best practices — read on.
In this article:
- What does calcium do for bones?
- Do calcium supplements actually work?
- When to take calcium supplements
- Best calcium supplement options
- Getting the right dose of calcium
- Bone support wellness practices
What Does Calcium Do for Bones?
Thanks to gaps in education and misleading marketing campaigns, most of us believe that calcium builds up our bones.
Or that taking a calcium supplement will help prevent fractures. Or both!
While calcium plays a crucial role in the skeletal system, the relationship between bones and calcium supplements isn’t so straightforward.
In reality, the process of building, strengthening, and protecting your bones is a variable one, both lengthy and multifaceted. The role that calcium supplements play in it is as such:
Calcium supplementation can slow bone density loss.
Does the distinction between something that builds bones, and that which simply slows bone density loss seem like a semantic issue?
Maybe, but it has real-world consequences, especially for those at risk for osteoporosis or osteopenia.
When we reach a calcium-deficient state, the calcium our body needs for vital functions is zapped from the bones. As a result, most people don’t see calcium deficiencies popping up on their labs; the deficiency is a slow leak from the bones outward.
So, getting an adequate amount of calcium is still an important wellness practice and daily ritual. Over the short term, low dietary calcium can contribute to bone loss.
When it comes to preventing fractures, preserving bone integrity, and reducing the pain levels of your future self, though, calcium is just one piece of the puzzle.
So, Do Calcium Supplements Actually Work?
As always, the deepest stratum of truth gives us an answer that isn’t nearly as clear-cut as we’d like it to be.
- Yes, calcium supplements — in the right forms, doses, and strategies — actually work to slow bone density loss. The effectiveness of your calcium supplementation can vary wildly though, depending on your age, the bioavailability of the product you choose, your consistency in taking it, and more.
- …No, calcium supplements don’t work for building or restoring bone loss. You’ll also be hard-pressed for tangible results if you opt for one of the cheaper, more widely available options that aren’t easily absorbed.
Learn More: Calcium Doesn’t Work?! | Dr. Neal Rants
When to Take Calcium Supplements
We use this analogy a lot when it comes to taking supplements and launching wellness practices:
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is right now.”
It translates well in the case of calcium supplementation: The absolute best time to start preserving bone density was, probably, 20 years ago. If you’re under the age of 30, the second best time is right now.
Under the age of 30, taking a high-quality form of calcium can have a huge impact on the long-term health of your skeleton. Why? Because we, as humans, don’t actually reach peak bone mass until age 30, so bone-building practices should be in full swing from childhood to age 30.
For those who are under 30 and at risk for osteoporosis or osteopenia, that goes double.
(And hey, young folks, go tell the other young folks about this, too!)
For the older millennials and their predecessors, taking a calcium supplement is not going to offer a significant decrease in the risk of fractures, according to JAMA’s infamous 2018 meta-analysis.
By the same token, if you are over the age of 30 your doctor has, most likely, already recommended calcium supplementation. Are we saying that your doctor is wrong and that you’d be wasting money on a calcium supplement? Absolutely not.
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body, and taking a third-party tested, bioavailable form of calcium can support everything from your cardiovascular and nervous system to muscle function and nerve transmission.
And slow bone density loss, as you now know.
Best Calcium Supplement Options
When looking for a calcium supplement to add to your wellness strategy, the question is not, “Which calcium supplement will help me build bone?”
Rather, the inquiry should be: What form of calcium will help me maintain bone density the longest?
If you’re asking the latter question, one particular form of calcium stands out from the crowd of citrates and lactates.
This microcrystalline form of the mineral is the same as the one found in our bodies and causes little GI irritation compared to its competitors.
As a complete compound, calcium hydroxyapatite gets close to the bone with higher absorption rates and a multi-pronged support function. In this form, our bones take in proteins, bone components, and other minerals alongside calcium.
The result? Support for the whole bone matrix.
Pro Tip: Cheaper, lower-quality supplements like calcium carbonate might seem harmless, but poor absorption of the mineral can wreak havoc on your stomach.
Calcium that sits around in the gut, rather than being properly absorbed, causes abdominal issues like constipation.
Getting the Right Dose of Calcium
If you’re hoping to politely exit the calcium-deficient club that 40% of US citizens are currently members of, then dosage should be top of mind.
Increasing your dietary calcium will only prevent bone density loss. Having a “healthy” bone density will decrease fracture risk.Dr. Neal Smoller
But before you take a gander at the handy chart of recommended intake levels included below, take a look at your plate!
Many of us are already receiving a portion of our recommended intake through our diets. Without factoring this in, you might end up with a dose that’s too high for your wallet and your wellness.
So when we’re trying to nail down a calcium supplement, we look for doses around 300mg – 500mg per capsule. This is lower than the recommended daily allowance, of course, because we want something that allows for user customization.
Had a lot of dairy one day? Just take one capsule. Not enough kale the next day? Take two.
The formula boils down to this: subtract your recommended daily allowance from your average dietary intake. There’s your personalized calcium dose!
Keep in mind that, for most people, 600mg of calcium is the upper limit of what your body can handle at one time. To avoid stagnant calcium in the gut, break up your intake throughout the day — i.e., one in the evening and one in the morning.
Bone Support Wellness Practices
Ensuring peak bone mass BEFORE the age of 30 is the single greatest thing to reduce the risk of fractures later in life.Dr. Neal Smoller
The wellness strategies you’ll want to adopt to protect your skeletal system will depend on your unique body, history, and risk factors.
There are a few generalized tips we can share, though, that will benefit the bones of almost all people under the age of 30:
- Exercise — in the form of regular movement and weight-bearing exercise
- Improving dietary intake — through calcium-rich foods
- Supplementation — with calcium hydroxyapatite
- Minimizing risk — by avoiding smoking and reducing alcohol consumption
- Consistency — in bone-building wellness practices
- Commitment — to the long-haul process
For folks over the age of 30, or those experiencing significant bone loss, the unfortunate truth is that you might not be able to rebuild bone mass with wellness practices at this point in your life.
Fret not, though! The false dichotomy of natural wellness vs. pharmaceutical medicine is just that — false.
Wellness practices can help support health and wholeness, but when it comes to diseases like osteoporosis, prescription medications for bone density loss are what can save lives.
Celebrating National Bone Health and Osteoporosis Prevention Month
To celebrate this month of awareness — give your bones the TLC they deserve! It doesn’t matter if you’re younger and think it’s too early, or older and think it’s too late.
“The second best time is right now.”
Now that you’re fully equipped with the science behind calcium and bone building, you can start making an active effort to support the longevity of your bones.
Need more advice on how to beef up your skeleton? Don’t work your fingers to the bone researching endless options — hop on a free Counterside Consult for direct guidance.